Our guest is my friend Dr. Richard Swenson. Dr. Swenson is a trained medical physician who served for 27 years in both private practice and as an instructor with the University of Wisconsin. He left the profession when he felt God was leading him to be what he calls a “watchman on the wall”–someone who interprets the signs of the times. Since then he spends much of his life studying faith and health and culture – and writing books. His latest book is called In Search of Balance: Keys to a Stable Life.
As I share on the program, ironically, I last saw Dr. Swenson while I was recovering from my broken ankle this past summer. Here I was supposed to be convalescing at home and I was hosting him in our basement, recording a daily radio program with a specialist who advocates slowing down and putting “margin” back into your life!
This matter of being overworked and overstressed is hardly new, but the magnitude of the problem is clearly growing in scope. Since technology allows you to work anywhere, people tend to work everywhere – at any time. I have to admit, I’m guilty of answering emails at all hours. I justify it by rationalizing — that doing work now will save work later, but somehow, come later, there is always new work to be done.
Dr. Swenson’s message is convicting, especially his observation that Jesus was never in a hurry, but instead that “He came to do two things: to love the person standing in front of Him and to go to Jerusalem to die.”
It’s both practical and understandable to try and find ways to work smarter and more efficiently. But have you ever stopped and wondered about the nature of work itself, as it relates to our lives as Christians? Could it be that if we better understood what moves us and makes us so busy, that we’d have a better chance of balancing the schedule and finding a more healthy mixture of work and rest?
The late Dorothy Sayers was an English writer who once penned a fascinating essay in the midst of World War II. It’s titled, “Why Work?” I would commend it to you. Of the many interesting reflections found within the piece, Ms. Sayers offers a fairly provocative thought that nicely complements Dr. Swenson’s message:
What is the Christian understanding of work? …work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.
Let the Church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade – not outside it. The Apostles complained rightly when they said it was not meet (appropriate) they should leave the word of God and serve tables; their vocation was to preach the word. But the person whose vocation it is to prepare the meals beautifully might with equal justice protest: It is not meet for us to leave the service of our tables to preach the word.
Some time ago, the journalist Judith Schulevitz offered a fascinating perspective on why some people just can’t seem to slow down:
Sandor Ferenczi, a disciple of Freud’s, once identified a disorder he called Sunday neurosis. Every Sunday (or, in the case of a Jewish patient, every Saturday), the Sunday neurotic developed a headache or a stomachache or an attack of depression. After ruling out purely physiological causes, including the rich food served at Sunday dinners, Ferenczi figured out what was bothering his patients. They were suffering from the Sabbath.
On that weekly holiday observed by all “present-day civilized humanity” (Ferenczi was writing in 1919, when Sunday was still sacred, even in Budapest, his very cosmopolitan hometown), not only did drudgery give way to festivity, family gatherings and occasionally worship, but the machinery of self-censorship shut down, too, stilling the eternal inner murmur of self-reproach. The Sunday neurotic, rather than enjoying his respite, became distraught; he feared that impulses repressed only with great effort might be unleashed. He induced pain or mental anguish to pre-empt the feeling of being out of control.
Ms. Schulevitz concluded with a stunning and, in my estimation, accurate analysis:
Most people mistakenly believe that all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood that it was a much more complicated undertaking. You cannot downshift casually and easily, the way you might slip into bed at the end of a long day. As the Cat in the Hat says, “It is fun to have fun but you have to know how.” This is why the Puritan and Jewish Sabbaths were so exactingly intentional, requiring extensive advance preparation — at the very least a scrubbed house, a full larder and a bath. The rules did not exist to torture the faithful. They were meant to communicate the insight that interrupting the ceaseless round of striving requires a surprisingly strenuous act of will, one that has to be bolstered by habit as well as by social sanction.
Perhaps it’s time to slow down – or at least slow down long enough to listen to today’s Focus on the Family radio program.